7 March 2016

Alessandro Manzoni – novelist

Writer who produced the greatest novel in Italian literature

Alessandro Manzoni wrote the first novel to be written in the Italian language rather than regional dialect
A lithograph of the writer Alessandro Manzoni
Italy’s most famous novelist, Alessandro Manzoni, was born on this day in 1785 in Milan.

Manzoni was the author of I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), the first novel to be written in modern Italian, a language that could be understood by everyone.

The novel caused a sensation when it was first published in 1825. It looked at Italian history through the eyes of the ordinary citizen and sparked pro-unification feelings in many Italians who read it, becoming a symbol of the Risorgimento movement.

I promessi sposi is now considered to be the most important novel in Italian literature and is still required reading for many Italian schoolchildren.

Manzoni spent a lot of his childhood in Lecco, on Lago di Lecco, where his father’s family originated, and he chose to set his great work there.

Lago di Lecco is an arm of Lago di Como and is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery that is so stunning it is said to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci for settings for his paintings.

More than two centuries later, fans of Manzoni’s novel continue to visit Lecco to see the places he described and the buildings featured in the book that remain.

The excellent Trattoria Vecchia Pescarenico
in the fisherman's quarter in Lecco that
featured in Manzoni's I promessi sposi
When visiting Lecco it is well worth taking the time to visit the historic fishermen’s quarter of Pescarenico, which was immortalised in I promessi sposi. It was the setting for Padre Cristoforo’s convent in the book and it was also from Pescarenico’s shore that one of the main characters, Lucia, set off in a boat to escape the clutches of the evil Don Rodrigo.

The village grew from a cluster of fishermen’s homes at the side of Lago di Lecco and an inn became established there in the 19th century.

Now named Trattoria Vecchia Pescarenico, the inn is at number eight in Via Pescarenico, a small street leading down to the side of the lake. Today it is an excellent restaurant specialising in seafood.

I promessi sposi created expressions and sayings that are still commonly used in Italian today, the most famous being: “Questo matrimonio non s’ha da fare…” (This marriage is not to be performed.)

This famous quote from the novel is still regularly used by Italians, in an ironic manner, when they are talking about weddings.

Manzoni died at the age of 88 after having had a fall on the steps of the church of San Fedele in Milan. There is now a statue of Manzoni in Piazza San Fedele.

Travel tip:

When you arrive in Lecco, it is a short walk from the railway station to the side of the lake. If you visit the Ufficio Informazione Turistiche (Tourist Information Office) in Via Sauro, just before you reach the lake, the staff will give you a free map of Lecco with places mentioned in the novel marked on it, such as Lucia’s house, Don Rodrigo’s castle and the famous marriage church. For more information about Lecco visit www.turismo.provincia.lecco.it.

Casa Manzoni was Manzoni's home in Milan until his death in 1873
The Casa Manzoni in Milan, where the author
lived until his death in 1873
Travel tip:

You can visit Casa Manzoni in Via Morone in Milan, where the author lived until his death in 1873 after his fall on the steps of the San Fedele church. The house is now used as the Centre for Manzoni Studies. The novelist’s tomb is in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. 

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